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In surprise move, PUC delays decision on Qwest deal

Regulators had been expected to approve CenturyLink's $10.6 billion acquisition of Qwest.


Star Tribune

By Steve Alexander

February 10, 2011

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission postponed a decision until March on the acquisition of Qwest by Louisiana-based telephone company CenturyLink amid concerns about whether the $10.6 billion merger is in the best interest of the public.

At a Thursday hearing the commission voted 3-2 to postpone a decision on the merger. Observers had been expecting approval of the acquisition and were surprised by the delay.

"Running Qwest is a unique experience, and it is beyond anything CenturyLink has faced to date," Commissioner J. Dennis O'Brien said in proposing to delay the decision. "There was no evidence that the acquisition agreement meets the public interest."

He said he would support the acquisition if the agreement included more safeguards for Qwest competitors and if the new commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Mike Rothman, supported the deal.

Smaller phone companies around the state have been fighting the merger on the grounds that their access to Qwests's network might be more limited unless there are more guarantees from CenturyLink. Without unfettered access, rural customers might not be able to get some services.

Denver-based Qwest is Minnesota's largest telephone company. The Qwest telephone network stretches over 14 states, so the acquisition must be approved by regulators in several states.

Steve Alexander 612-673-4553